Protein: What’s the Big Deal?

Written by Barbara J. Kinney BSN, RN

Protein is an essential nutrient found in every part of your body. Your muscles, your cells, your blood, your everything has protein in it. It is one of the most abundant substances found in your body, next to water. Protein has a basic function to build, maintain, and repair body tissues.

Whether you prefer chicken, fish, beans or whatever else you like that is dense in protein; all of these options will help you live a healthy lifestyle. They help you manage a healthy weight and protect your muscle tone, as you get older.

When you consume protein dense foods, your body breaks the food down into smaller particles called amino acids. These amino acids are used to build cells and tissues throughout your body as needed. This is important to understand because when you don’t have enough protein from your diet, your body will pull protein by breaking down and harvesting amino acids from the muscle in order to maintain more vital organs, like the brain. Therefore, not consuming enough protein can work against you. Protein builds muscle and muscle is the primary calorie burning tissue, meaning the more muscle you have versus fat, the more calories you will burn during cardio.

Protein, like fiber, also helps keep you fuller longer. This will aid in weight loss because you will be less likely to snack on foods that you do not need and while most Americans get more than enough protein, they are not necessarily choosing the lean options. Remember, calories from protein still count, so do not go overboard.

Top 4 protein dense foods:

1.      Eggs (use sparingly due to cholesterol content)

2.      Soy protein, found in soybeans

3.      Casein protein, found in milk

4.      Animal protein (keep it lean!)

Top 4 plant based proteins:

1.      Quinoa (rich in nutrients, 14% protein, and contains all of the essential amino acids)

2.      Chia seeds (21% protein)

3.      Hemp (up to 47% protein, rich in phytonutrients)

4.      Chlorella (up to 58% protein)

The recommended daily allowance for women is 46 grams per day and for men it is 56 grams per day. Make sure to spread this out over the course of a day to utilize it at maximum capacity.